Watt, the in-demand songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist, has worked with a who’s who of music stars in recent years, helping craft hits for a bevy of chart-topping artists. One of his most recent success stories? Co-writing the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit “Peaches” with Justin Bieber.
“He’s such an amazing musician, and people forget about that, because he’s so great at everything and he’s also such a larger-than-life figure that you forget,” Watt says of Bieber, adding that “the whole thing was all him.”
In a new interview with the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast (listen below), Watt recalls the beginnings of “Peaches,” featuring Daniel Caesar and Giveon, in his studio. “It was just this thing that was written in 30 minutes, you know? Really effortlessly… the thing just flew.”
Watt’s hit list of songs he either co-wrote or co-produced also includes Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart,” Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes’ “Señorita” and 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood” — not to mention the bulk of Miley Cyrus’ latest album Plastic Hearts and the entirety of Ozzy Osbourne’s last album, Ordinary Man.
Earlier in 2021, Watt won his first Grammy, for producer of the year, non-classical (“such an honor… it’s not something that really feels real”). Meanwhile, he continues to work toward releasing his own solo album, which is sure to be filled with a starry lineup of collaborators.
On the Pop Shop Podcast, Watt not only discusses how the seed for “Peaches” was planted, but also how Cyrus’ “Midnight Sky” (a track he co-wrote and co-produced) found its way to Stevie Nicks (and eventually into its “Edge of Midnight” mash-up remix), how his guitar solo on Post Malone’s “Take What You Want” (another track he co-wrote and co-produced) came to be, and if perhaps Watt might be involved with Post Malone’s upcoming album (or albums).
Below are some highlights from Watt’s interview on the Pop Shop Podcast:
On how “Peaches” initially came together and how Daniel Caesar and Giveon got on the track:
Justin is … so willing to listen to ideas until the thing is found, and he makes it his own. And then once he knows he’s got something, he runs with that ball. And he spikes it in the end zone every single time, you know? No one sings a song like him. So getting Daniel Caesar and Giveon on that song was all him. That was him. And reaching out to them to do it, [it’s] not like, “Hey, manager, can you do this?” It’s him. He goes and makes it all happen.
That was a really fun song to do, actually. Justin and I live close together and we were deep into the album at this point, and he just wanted to come over one day to jam with me. Really light and easy. And it was me and my engineer, and he came over. The way my studio’s kind of set up, everything’s on. … So [for “Peaches”], I wanted him to just bounce around the studio and see what it’s like to have fun… put down a beat. “Justin, go play the drums.” He made up this awesome thing that we looped up. Sat down at the piano. Started playing these chords and looped those as well, and that was amazing. I put down some bass, I put down some guitar… and then the mic was up and he just started freestyling… The whole thing was all him… and it was just this thing that was written in like 30 minutes, you know? Really effortlessly. And I just kept choosing the bits … the thing just flew… and we were just talking words back and forth for fun.
Then, he asked me to send it to him so he could work on it more himself, because he was really into it. And then before I knew it, he had a whole production that Harv [producer and co-writer Bernard Harvey] did, which is so incredible and live sounding, and [a] fresh sound for pop music, I think. And he had put Giveon and Daniel Caesar on the song, which just elevated it in such a way.
You know, the initial thing of getting it out of him and giving him the space to create in, that was really my role there… And then once he had something… he just took it and ran with it.
On the status of Watt’s solo album:
It’s something that I’m really taking my time with. It’s constantly developing as time goes by… It keeps getting more developed. And more people are getting involved. It’s just this thing that I’m trying to keep close… As time moves on, and I keep working with more and more people, it’s all working itself into making sense together. But, what I can say is it’s definitely an album of collaborations… it’s something I love to do. I love to make moments between artists either that really belong together and it’s really special or that are from totally different worlds but for whatever reason it works. So the concept for the album kinda lies within that.
Watt talks about his guitar solo on Post Malone’s “Take What You Want,” featuring Ozzy Osbourne and Travis Scott, which Watt co-wrote and co-produced:
It’s one of my favorite moments ever. I’ll never forget driving down Sunset Boulevard [in Los Angeles]. And KIIS-FM comes on in L.A., and they’re playing f—in’ “Take What You Want.” And there’s a tapping guitar solo. I’m like passing the Whisky [a Go Go]. And I’m like, “There’s a f—in’ tapping guitar solo on pop radio, eat sh–!” [Laughs] It was so funny to me, and great, and awesome. Again, that’s Posty being like, “Do a guitar solo.” Like, It’s an Ozzy song. Let’s make this a real Ozzy song. Coming from a fan perspective. Like, every Ozzy song has a great guitar solo, right? Like, classic. Whether it’s Randy Rhoads or Zakk Wylde or the stuff with [Black] Sabbath or Jake E. Lee, later, you know. You wanna hear the solos. It was Post’s encouragement.
On working with Miley Cyrus and Stevie Nicks for the “Edge of Midnight” mash-up remix of Cyrus’ “Midnight Sky” and Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”:
When we were doing [“Midnight Sky”], and the song has its obvious nod to “Edge of Seventeen,” Miley reached out to Stevie — being, you know, she’s so respectful of art and creators and of [the] lineage of music. [She] reached out to her to show her the song and be like, “Hey, you know, this has a little nod to you, I hope this is cool.” And Stevie, in Stevie fashion, which now I know because I got to talk to her a little bit, was so receptive and so cool. And was like, “I don’t even hear the similarity besides that guitar rhythm. I love the song, it’s so great.” So, it was kinda like the natural progression between that and her doing the remix.
And then, you know, we were working on it, and talking to her, kinda over the phone. ‘Cause it was in COVID. And her assistant actually recorded her vocals in her apartment and we were kinda sending ’em back and forth and doing notes together. And she stays up real late. Real late. So, you know, I would get this call from an unknown number after she would hear the next bounce. And I just remember kind of falling asleep in my bed one night talking to Stevie Nicks about, just, we just got into a whole conversation about the world. And then it was kind of one of those things where I was like, kinda dozing off into like an amazing dream. But Stevie was talking to me, “Hello?” [Laughs] And I was like, still kinda there. But it felt like a dream. And it was a dream. And we had to work through the wee hours of the night to get it done in time for when they all wanted it to come out. But [that’s] another situation where it’s like, “Is this f—ing real?” That song [“Edge of Seventeen”] is one of the greatest recordings ever.
And then I got to get the multitracks (of “Edge of Seventeen”) and f—in’ listen to them in the studio. And listen to those drums by themselves. And listen to that amazing Waddy Wachtel guitar by itself. And sit with it. It was what inspired me to make the other song. It was just really kinda surreal and amazing. And those kinds of things, you know, you just do for the love of music. And it’s like, one of the perks of doing this amazing job is that you get to connect with people that have touched you and are the reason why you’re here. And it’s never lost on me. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to get to do that.